Religion after Norway
The recent tragedy in Norway, the worst attack the country has
experienced since World War II, shocked and pained the world. It has
also forced us as a global community to look more closely at religion,
identity and how we see the “other”—as well as ourselves.
In the West, religion is often an uncomfortable topic of discussion, and
the recent terror attacks in Norway have forced many of us, especially
in the United States and Europe, to re-examine issues of religion and
Thus, how do we talk about religion after Norway?
In the early responses to terror attacks, blame has been quickly
assigned to Muslims. Once it was revealed that the perpetrator in
Norway, Anders Breivik, was actually an anti-Muslim, right-wing
extremist who self-identified as Christian, the proclivity to blame his
actions on religious fundamentalism quickly vanished. It’s easy to point
to the hypocrisy—to criticize people for their inclination to assume
Islam promotes violence while at the same time being quick to wash
Christianity’s collective hands of any hint of wrongdoing.
Pointing fingers though merely addresses the symptoms and not the actual
problem of a worldview that chooses to view “the other” from a position
of fear instead of love; and to address this problem, no matter how
uncomfortable, religion must be part of the conversation.
Our religion, or lack thereof, shapes who each of us are and how we
function in the world. When we believe in an idea, faith expression or
sacred text, these beliefs form our very identity, influencing
everything from our politics to our relationships. For many people,
these beliefs are what give us hope that a better world is possible—a
world where fear does not reign and where compassion and service drive
our actions instead.
Yet religious identity can also influence people to commit acts of
violence and hatred. Common to fundamentalists of any religion are
fear-based attempts at control. By insisting upon being right at all
costs, they reject the Christian discipline of trusting in God, or the
Muslim call to submit to Him.
For those, however, who allow themselves to be formed in ways that
respond to “the other” with love instead of fear, religion grants the
means to build a better world. Orienting oneself around the needs of
others strengthens the common good instead of selfish individual
desires. Reclaiming love of one’s neighbor as a religious tenet, and not
merely a political mandate, is therefore a necessary step in addressing
the corruption of religion by fundamentalisms.
As a person of faith, I see this “lived out” faith looking like the
response of Hege Dalen and her partner, Toril Hansen, to the attacks.
When they heard screams and gunshots from their campsite opposite Utöyan
Island, they immediately hopped in their boat and dodged bullets in
order to save some 40 people. We can’t all be heroes, but choosing a
life of helping those in need, no matter who they are, is the basis of
any religion that would rather build than destroy. Speaking up about the
religious values that motivate us to reach out, and being willing to
listen to those who do the same but who come from other traditions, can
help change the way our cultures view religion.
Talking about religion after Norway means not letting fear define what
faith is all about. Examining our own beliefs and living out our faith
through selfless acts of love can move the conversation past the
toxicity of fear.
Deliberate attempts to understand religion, uncomfortable as it may be,
must be part of the path forward. Engage in conversation or read a book
by someone who is “other” to yourself. Partner with people of other
beliefs on relief or community development projects to understand how
our different faiths motivate the same generous actions and join in
honest discussions about our differences to discover what we can learn
from each other.
Living in secular societies does not mean ignoring our religion.
Instead, we can choose to use that part of our identities to build a
* Julie Clawson (www.julieclawson.com)
is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily
Choices. She lives in the United States in Austin, Texas. This article
was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, Aug. 2, 2011, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.